HATTIESBURG, MS. (THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MISSISSIPPI) – The remains of four unknown U.S. soldiers unearthed by University of Southern Mississippi faculty and students will be reinterred with full military honors in a service at Biloxi National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2010.
Since April 2008, members of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Southern Miss made numerous visits to recover the soldiers' remains from Greenwood Island in East Pascagoula, Miss. - the site of Camp Jefferson Davis at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. The four unidentified soldiers will join two others who were found within 20 yards of them in 1979.
They will be brought in on horse-drawn caissons with 19th Century style coffins draped in period flags Monday, May 31 at 9:30 a.m. Mr. Thomas Wisnieski, director of the Biloxi Medical Center, will be the keynote speaker.
"Camp Jefferson Davis represents one era in Gulf Coast history that receives little recognition," said Dr. Marie Danforth, professor of anthropology at Southern Miss.
The Southern Miss crew worked in close partnership with several coast organizations in final excavations and reburial arrangements, such as the Jackson County Historical and Genealogical Society (JCHGS), Biloxi National Cemetery, Department of Veteran Affairs, the Ocean Springs Veterans of Foreign Wars, Coastal Environments, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor's office and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. JCHGS member Roger Hansen coordinated the joint effort that resulted in a HumanKind Grant from Chevron.
"We've fought high tides, access challenges and even Hurricane Gustav to get the remains out," said Hansen. "We were happy to be able to help preserve another piece of Gulf Coast history."
The remains were found buried in cypress wood coffins and were identified by Southern Miss researchers as males of European descent between the ages of 18 and 30 years of age.
After a historic reconstruction and skeletal analysis of the soldiers' remains, researchers determined they were veterans returning from the Mexican-American War in 1848. Buttons found on the soldiers' remains also helped with determining their origin. Surprisingly, there were no signs of trauma on the bones other than one small piece of shrapnel on a collarbone. Most of the soldiers at the camp succumbed to tropical diseases.
"We were able to provide some glimpses into their lives, such as the fact that most had poor dental health, due to the widespread introduction of refined sugar into foods at that time," Danforth said.
According to data collected by the JCHGS, Greenwood Island was occupied by 1,800 troops in June 1848. A total of 90 soldiers died at Greenwood Island during the six-month period of June 1848 through November 1849. To date, JCHGS has successfully identified the names of 44 of the 90 soldiers.
Work on Greenwood Island is still ongoing to find the names of the other soldiers who perished at Camp Jefferson Davis. "We also have already begun discussing plans on erecting a kiosk with historical panels near the site that will describe what occurred here 1845 -1855 that made national news and played a small part in the direction the nation was taking during the expansion period of Manifest Destiny," Hansen said.
For more information on the Greenwood Island reburial, visit http://www.usm.edu/antsoc/anthro/research/Greenwood%20Island/greenwood_island.htm.